Turkey, US to begin op for ISIL-free zone in Syria

Turkey, US to begin op for ISIL-free zone in Syria

Deniz Zeyrek - ANKARA
Turkey, US to begin op for ISIL-free zone in Syria

AFP photo

Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu confirmed to Hürriyet on Nov. 17 that NATO allies Ankara and Washington have agreed to stage a “joint operation” along Turkey’s border with Syria, with sources saying this is the start of a previously announced bid to establish an “ISIL-free zone.”

Sinirlioğlu was responding to a question on statements by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had said earlier in the day that the two countries would start an operation to complete the securing of the northern Syrian border, which has been used in the past by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants. 

Military and diplomatic sources told Hürriyet that Kerry was referring to “a cleaning operation” to be conducted in a 98-kilometer long zone on the so-called “Mare-Jarablus line,” underlining that the campaign would kick-off soon.

As the U.S. and Turkey together provide “air protection,” armed forces from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) will launch an offensive against ISIL. 

Officials stressed that the Turkish Armed Forces will not put boots on the ground, though action will be taken against ISIL elements along the Turkey-Syria border. 

The Turkish military will hit ISIL targets in Syria by strikes launched from Turkish territory, they said.

 “We are pressing the button for the ‘ISIL-free zone’ that was publicly mentioned earlier,” a senior Turkish official speaking on condition of anonymity told Hürriyet.

“Seventy-five percent of Syria’s northern border has so far been shut down. And we are entering an operation with the Turks to shut off the remaining 98 kilometers,” Kerry said in an interview with CNN earlier on Nov. 17. 

Kerry, who was in the southern Turkish province of Antalya on Nov. 15 to attend the G-20 Summit, arrived in Paris on Nov. 16 to pay respects to the victims of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks that killed 129 people. 

The United States and Turkey hope that by sweeping ISIL from the border zone they can deprive it of a smuggling route that has seen its ranks swell with foreign fighters and its coffers boosted by illicit trade, Reuters said in a Nov. 17 report.  

Earlier, speaking to reporters after meetings French President Francois Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris, Kerry said increased coordination with Russia in the fight against ISIL militants would require progress in the political process to end the Syrian war. 

He added that agreements reached last week at the Vienna peace talks on Syria meant the country could be “weeks away, conceivably, of a big transition.” 

Kerry also referred to independently conducted U.S. and Russian air strikes in Syria. 

In Vienna on Nov. 14, Russia, the United States and powers from Europe and the Middle East outlined a plan for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, but differences remained on key issues such as the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama also spoke about Syria on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit on Nov. 15.